Restaurant in Prairie Village
by charity ohlund photography by brooke vandever
I’ve told this story dozens of times. I was
a few years out of journalism school and had returned to my hometown to work as
a project manager at a web development com- pany. One of our clients was a gourmet food shop, and after my California-transplanted boss learned that my entire Wichita upbring- ing had consisted of nothing more adventur- ous than pork chops, potatoes, fried chicken and spaghetti, he insisted that I try the yellow- n sushi rolls offered at our client’s edgy and whimsical shop called With A Twist.
My relationship to food changed on that day 13 years ago. It was the moment I realized that food could be art, adventure, experience and emotion instead of just sustenance.
Then just days ago, I was enjoying yet another game-changing moment, this time with
a yellowtail snapper at Story restaurant in Prairie Village. Ceviche has never been on my personal faves list (too much acid and too salty). But chef and owner Carl Thorne-Thomsen’s yellowtail Ceviche was even more delicious than it was beautiful. And man, was it beautiful. A perfect, shallow circle of diced snapper, tomatillos and Serrano chiles is kissed with olive oil and lime, and crowned with a tangle of curly, crisp carrot strings.
As I sat chatting with Story co-owner Susan Thorne-Thomsen, stories were told, dots were connected and culinary serendipity intervened. Susan had been the owner of With A Twist in Wichita all those years ago. She hired Carl to be the chef at the café inside her shop after he knocked her socks off with his homemade breads, sauces and desserts.
“He was supposed to be getting his Master’s degree in creative writing at Wichita State after nishing his undergrad at Cornell,” Susan said. “But he was distracted by food. When he should have been writing, he was cooking.”
There was something else distracting Carl, too. It was Susan. They soon married and had three kids while Carl rst honed his skills at 40 Sardines, then as the chef de cuisine for Chef Michael Smith at Michael Smith and Extra Virgin.
Looking around the crisp and clean dining room of Story, it’s clear that Carl and Susan designed it as a light box to showcase the main characters at Story—the ingredients. The white walls, tablecloths and plates pro- vide a pure backdrop to Chef Carl’s signature philosophy of “a central ingredient, a sup- porting cast of three or four avors, a variety of textures, and a nice balance of sweetness, tartness, and saltiness.”
Dinner at Story is at once upscale and casual, urban and neighborhood. But the best- kept secret at Story happens in broad daylight. In addition to the regular lunch menu (if you consider Arctic char with Brussels sprouts and bacon as “regular”), a daily prix xe lunch menu offers 3 courses with options for $18. Happy hour is from 4:30pm–6:30 pm Tuesday through Friday, and gets you the best bar menu I’ve ever seen for half price. Sunday brunch is an á la carte gathering of friends and neighbors shaking off Saturday night’s excess with head-healing dishes like smoked duck empanadas, shrimp and grits, and even a classic cheeseburger (if you consider red wine mayo to be classic, as I do).
Sunday night at Story has a strong cult following with foodies getting their x for less when Chef Carl offers a $10 entrée special and a select bottle of wine for $10. No, not glass. Bottle.
The rst full spring season of Story’s rookie year is upon us, and I can’t wait to set up permanent camp on the gorgeous patio. A full schedule of events is already in place, including a Boulevard Beer dinner with brewmaster Steven Pauwels on April 11, a Mother’s Day tea and fashion show on May 12, and a cocktail and tapas patio party on June 13, just to name a few.
That’s the thing about Story. It can just as easily accommodate a power lunch as it can a patio pig roast, which will indeed happen on May 24 to celebrate Story’s one-year anniver- sary.
I’ve had more moments of culinary magic than I can count in the past 13 years. It started in Susan’s gourmet food shop with a simple roll of sushi, and continued days ago with Chef Carl’s modern German chocolate cake with thin layers of coconut and white chocolate mousse that looked as if it were plated by Picasso with its geometric salted caramels and candied pecans. ■